Reserved and soft-spoken, Nokulunga Nkambule doesn’t like the limelight and shies away from talking about herself. Yet this unassuming young woman has managed to carve her own space in a totally unfamiliar environment, and is holding her own.

Enrolled at Penryn College through Penreach and Transnet Foundation’s OYEDP, Nokunlunga was identified as a gifted child during a Transnet recruitment drive. She is currently in Grade 11 and is enjoying history classes, making friends and expressing herself through her art.

Taking a child from a marginalised community and offering them opportunities far beyond what their circumstances would dictate sounds like an utopian dream, but the process is often fraught with difficulties. Luckily, not for this bright young woman.

Due to its established operational, management and financial processes, the Penreach Bursaries programme is in a position to provide comprehensive psycho-social support, on top of managing the logistical, academic and financial aspects related to a scholar’s well-being and progress. The relationship between Penreach and Penryn has enabled 24 children to be enrolled on bursaries over the past three years.

The continued academic progress, leadership development and participation in sport and school life of these children is evidence of the success of the programme. It ensures that children like Nokulunga adjust well and are emotionally secure within their new environment, and allows them to perform at the best of their ability.

Although it hasn’t been easy all the time, she’s excelling. Recently one of her art pieces, a striking self-portrait, was featured on South Africa’s leading visual arts publication, Art Times’ website. This is a huge feather in Nokulunga’s cap, but she’s typically low-key about the fuss everybody else is making.

According to her, she isn’t that good at art, but enjoys the classes for the companionable singing everybody engages in. “Art is difficult,” she smiles. “But I love that we’re given themes and asked to interpret them. You can express yourself without anyone judging you.”

She’s also involved in an outreach programme called Bush Buddies, promoting environmental awareness and social interaction between scholars from different backgrounds. It enables children to discover the principles of conservation and sustainability, while breaking down social barriers with compatriots they would otherwise never have met. Snare Buddies, an initiative against snares in game parks and nature reserves, is another of one her interests.

Her guardian mother, Leticia Mlambo, looks after her and there’s an easy affection between the pair. After some adjustment, Nokulunga is enjoying the hostel and has made lots of friends. She loves Penryn and history is her favourite subject.

Letitia Ingle, Nokulunga’s Guardian Mother at Penryn

The future is bright and after a recent careers outing to Kishugu Aviation Training Organisation, she’s set her sights on becoming a pilot. “Dreaming about things that won’t happen,” she laughs. But who knows? Leticia thinks differently: “She came with a wall she built for herself, but has learned to take it down. Anything can happen.”

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